West Country tourism trends
The West Country’s tourism industry is bracing itself for the first influx of visitors over Easter weekend as the multi-billion pound industry that supports almost 180,000 jobs in the region swings into action.
Hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants, holiday resorts, caravan park operators, museums and Stately Homes all see the Easter weekend as a crucial time to get the season off to a strong start.
Amanda Harrington, Sales and Marketing Manager with travel specialists Bakers Dolphin, which has shops in Bristol’s Broadmead and Weston-super-Mare said: “The traffic jams on the motorways around Bristol will be an indicator of how the season is starting and from all the statistics we have people are staying in the UK this year.
“We have seen a huge surge of bookings in the last six weeks from people in the region and they are looking at staycations. We are seeing huge numbers coming into the region and taking bookings for the rest of the year on tours to places like Scotland, Ireland and Northumbria.
“It seems the buying power of the pound against the Euro is having an effect and this year definitely sees a trend of people not going abroad and staying in the UK. That means the South West right down to Cornwall will benefit.”
Wookey Hole Caves has invested £3 million since last summer in buying a holiday park near the attraction to provide accommodation and a further £1 million in changes to the attraction itself.
General Manager Daniel Medley said: “We are expecting to welcome 150,000 people to stay in accommodation we provide this year, ranging from rooms in our hotel, luxury lodges, camping and caravans. We have invested in accommodation in order to meet the demand as people want to stay in Somerset.
“Years ago Somerset was a place people passed through on their way to Cornwall and they might stop off to look at the caves to break their journey. Now people know Cornwall can get very crowded; they realise that the Mendip Hills has fabulous countryside, that there is a magnificent coastline to Somerset and that Weston-super-Mare, Wells and Bristol have so many attractions for the visitor to enjoy.
“Our bookings are coming from the Midlands around Birmingham and Wales and they realise that Somerset has everything they want for a holiday.”
Wookey Hole has also introduced adventure tourism this year with the Wild Wookey cave challenge, which enables adventurous visitors to enter the caves through a cliff-face hole before winding their way through a maze of natural wild cave passages and taking on a roped descent to the water's edge of the River Axe.
Said Daniel Medley: “We have to keep refreshing the attraction to bring people back year after year and this is a new and exciting move for us employing qualified and experienced caving instructors and investing in equipment, lights, harnesses and gloves so that people can explore the caves under the Mendips in safety.
“There is greater demand for activity holidays and we have reacted to that demand and we expect that to bring more wealth to the region as people attracted to come to us then spend money in the local pubs, hotels, restaurants, shops and other tourist attractions.”
Michelle Michael, co-owner of the Grand Pier at Weston-super-Mare, said: “We’re excited for the coming season. Our refurbished Boardwalk café is already proving popular and we’ve been focussing on adding value for our customers with our Kids Eat Free promotion and our two-tier wristbands.
“Easter is always exciting as we see our first big crowds of the year. We are an all-weather attraction and provide year-round entertainment but there is nothing quite like the buzz of the pier on a busy, sunny Bank Holiday and we have been preparing for this for weeks.
“People might think the Grand Pier is a traditional attraction but in fact we have invested in sophisticated indoor rides and computer-based games that are geared to the 21st century and which our Victorian ancestors would marvel at.
“We’ve also put focus on our events schedule. We’re kicking the season off with an exciting Firework Night on Easter Weekend which we’re sure will draw the crowds and we’ve got some great themed party nights coming up throughout the Summer for people looking for a night out with a difference. As well as this we’re experiencing strong demand for weddings, which is a sign of just how popular the seaside is as a destination.
“We are definitely on the road to a successful season. We’ve been doing everything we can to attract visitors and we can’t wait to see everyone enjoying their visit to the Pier.”
The region has the largest hotels and restaurant sector in the UK, in terms of both employment and in receiving more tourists than any other UK region. Mark Payne, chairman at the Bristol Hoteliers Association said: “It’s a very important time for the city’s hoteliers as it acts as a shop window for future business.
“Although the currency is not performing particular well on the back of Brexit, on a more positive note it is helping to drive bookings. We are seeing an increased interest in ”staycations” this year as visiting Europe or America is now 25% more expensive.
“We have increased volumes of visitors coming from Europe, in particular the French, German and Irish market is looking stronger for the majority of our members with a leisure focus.
“This year is a very important one as there will be overspill from Cardiff where the Champions League final is being held. It’s a great chance for Bristol to showcase itself to fans from other major European cities as well as dignitaries and sponsors.”
As one of the best destination venues in the region Mehmet Kandimer, General Manager at Cadbury House in Congresbury is looking forward to the forthcoming spring and summer season.
He said: “Hotels in general have had to redefine their offering, fighting back against non-hotel venues. This has been achieved by continual investment in the product, adding value and higher levels of service.
“Here at Cadbury House being so close to the airport means we attract guests looking for somewhere to stay before they jet off on holiday as well as business people wanting a close venue to hold meetings. The period around Easter really sees the numbers rise in terms of holiday makers and continues right through until the Autumn.
“Unsurprisingly the number of weddings during this period also increases with couples wanting to make the most of longer days and warmer weather.”
John Dowling, DoubleTree by Hilton, Bristol City Centre agrees Easter is a key time for the hotel and city.
He said: “Firstly we get a lot of people who are driving down to Devon and Cornwall for the holidays that do a stop-over in Bristol to break up a long journey. This then continues throughout the spring and summer with July and August being our highest occupancy months of the year.
“We also get a lot of guests coming into the city for the festivals and being close to the train station certainly helps as travellers can hop off the train and be with us in a matter of minutes. There has also been a rise this year in the number of UK-based guests booking rooms due to the less favourable exchange rates.
“This year also the ladies cricket world cup has resulted in an increase in bookings around the time of the eight matches taking place in Bristol and we certainly have received a lot of business from it.”